A “sniper”, in the Autumn of 1999 over in Rome, took a shot at me, a warning shot, I guess. A warning for what I could only guess at the time. I’m guessing it had something to do with a guy who was living there for quite a number of weeks, a bit of a terrorist who had opened up to me, in detail, about his intentions to bomb an island nation near Africa. Of course, as always, I passed such information along. Anyway:
What I wrote in the past: I was up on the top floor of where I was staying, about 85 feet up from street level, a recreation room surrounded by large, panoramic windows. I was standing at a window (top right) with the exit door unto a patio roof on the other side of the building behind me. I loved to stand there and look out over the city of Rome while mulling over a doctoral thesis I was writing at the time on textual criticism of papyri manuscripts. For no discernible reason, I was getting creeped out by a window on the far side of a little valley in the city – a veritable spaghetti bowl of train tracks coming in from every direction – creeped out enough by that window to be distracting, and it was unrelenting. Wanting to think of things more academic, I simply turned to leave out the door onto the roof-patio on the far side of the building where I could pace back and forth to think in peace. But just as I turned out the door to that roof-patio, that nano-second, I heard a sharp make-you-instantly-cringe CRASH-CRACK sound and came back to investigate. I saw a small hole in the window where I had been and some bits of glass round about, but, just glancing at this, not really looking, while my first thought that it was obviously a bullet, I dismissed that thought and figured it was just someone who had thrown a tiny rock up at the building just to do it, and that it was no big deal. It was a small hole. Back I went to the patio and pacing, oblivious to the world, thinking of manuscript symbols and dates and locations and ancient politics and also the “Reformation” and present day Church politics. But the next day and the next I would be back at that window, as was my custom while deep in thought. I let myself be distracted and noticed that a picture on the far wall from the window, just to the side of the door, had been broken by what I didn’t know, perhaps rough-housing while playing ping-pong (there being a ping-pong table on the far side of the room). But then I looked at the window again. It was double-pane. It was then that I realized this had to have been a bullet because of the double panes and the holes being so tiny. I followed the unmistakable trajectory (lining up the holes in the two panes), and it went directly to the hole in the picture inside the room. With that I followed the trajectory the other way, and that led me to a large-windowed room (one window always open) on a roof of a building (quite exactly the height of the one I was in) which, now using google-maps distance measuring tool, I find was 427 feet away. It was the same window that had creeped me out.
The tram and train power wires would not have been in the way. The above picture is from google maps at street level, far below the window where I had been standing.
Left-of-bang advice from those experienced in combat is that you should always take note of those super-creepy feelings. Your senses pick up on things that don’t register in your conscience brain except by way of such warnings as they are things so small you would never pay attention to them even if you did outright notice them. Did I notice but not notice the end of a gun barrel pointed in my direction. At that distance? But your brain registers the information you otherwise can’t.
Anyway, no harm done. That didn’t stop me from hanging out at that window to check out the skyline of Rome before my usual pacing. I won’t be able to go back to that building if I’m ever in Rome to try to find the bullet buried in whatever wall or whatever since the building was sold some years ago.
UPDATE: Since I wrote the post in which the above was included (about a year ago), I’ve come to know a bit more about guns, including an AR-15 belonging to a parishioner. I remember the holes in the double-paned windows (thick glass in those massive windows, mind you). The holes were tiny. I figured it was just a .22 bullet like for the long rifle we had at home when I was a kid, you know, the kind with the really tiny bullets that will ricochet off anything without doing any damage. That’s what I thought, being amazed that such a bullet at such a distance with such a blunted surface and with no power could ever so very cleanly cut through those windows. But now I realize that one would have better accuracy if that bullet were not a .22, but rather a .223 or 5.56, which have the same bullet width (tiny!), effectively, the same as the normal .22. The .223 or 5.56 is, oh my, ever so very much faster and powerful, as there is so much more gunpowder in a collared cartridge, and the bullets are not blunt, but pointed, apt, then, to cut through those thick panes of glass as if they weren’t even there, with the tip cutting, not pushing through, keeping the holes small. That rather nuances my thoughts about the shooter.
Some additional thoughts about the timing: As mentioned above, at the time of this pot-shot I was trying to wrap my mind around the utter, total betrayal of the Church by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity by way of its documents on ecumenical cooperation on the establishment of a text of Scripture perhaps closer to the original than what we now have. Not that that’s bad at all, but the way they did it was and is still an attempt at a “Reformation” this time from within the Church, going far beyond what the “Reformers” would ever have themselves tolerated in their own wholesale rejection of Revelation as both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition: Erasmus, Luther, et alii… This was a very dark time for me, or, really, a time so full of light that I was just a bit blinded by the radiance. People think that it was some document on justification which bothered me about ecumenical activities back in the day (and it was criticized even by most Lutherans) – and it did bother me – but instead, I was simply consumed by the darkness of the betrayal of Revelation by those who should know better, a betrayal of openly triumphalistic mockery. I know what was said, publicly or privately and by whom, about all this. I saw just how close the Church was to dropping into hell, and was very much consoled that Saint Robert Bellarmine on exactly this topic and this very point had used this very description of the Church as being about to drop straight into hell. The utter betrayal of the faith – and what I saw the consequences of this would be for untold numbers of the faithful for centuries to come – had caught up with me and was beating me down, down, down, down, down. Call me a damn fool to weep for the Church. Call me a damn fool to be beaten down by this crowd, to take it personally, to feel indignant for the Holy Spirit who provides Revelation (both written and Sacred Tradition), to feel indignant for the Incarnate Word (to whom that Revelation points), to feel indignant for the Father (who wants us to listen to His beloved Son). Call me a damn fool for caring when there were canonized saints at the time (more recently) who didn’t seem to notice or care (though they surely didn’t see the problem in all its clarity, hoodwinked as they were by those clever mockers and manipulators). Call me a damn fool. But it is what it is. This is just a personal note of a part of my personal history. I can’t change what was, what I lived, what I experienced. This was the darkest moment of my life. Seeing the Church so close to hell is not easy.
At precisely that nanosecond, the shot came crashing through the window and into the room. Had I not moved a nanosecond before this, that bullet would have blown my heart right out of my chest.
But the guy waited a nanosecond, perhaps by mistake, perhaps on purpose. Had the door jam behind which I had just slipped in that nanosecond been made of wood and sheet-rock or plaster, instead of brick (which he didn’t know), perhaps I would not be writing this. It was solid brick. I’m sure people will laugh, and say that this was simply Coincidence, blah blah blah. Maybe. Coincidence is a dang good aim, a dang good shot, at a distance, right to the heart. What are the chances? About a trillion to the power of a trillion? But that’s not the point.
It’s now almost twenty years since that happened. It only now strikes me that there’s an analogy in God’s providence to be made. I’m a bit slow with these things. It strikes me that the betrayal of the Church by those who should know better can be a bullet more deadly than any bullet shot by a mere rifle.
Character building and all that? No. What’s needed when it comes to the darkness is the light of Christ. We are just so very much nothing. He is everything. It’s all about Jesus. Only Him. How could it be otherwise?
Perhaps this is why I didn’t go near doing character development for Cardinal Frobin in Jackass for the Hour. I was just too close to all that when I wrote Jackass. See: Jackass for the Hour: Frobin in Ch. 27 & Sister Nice in Ch: 29 Weirdly, my life history, including some dramas and actual stomping grounds (exact the same places, even the same bedroom) have mirrored in detail the life of Cardinal Frobin, except, of course, for being a Cardinal. I knew people who knew him in his younger days and during his time in Rome, who knew him very well. I could and should give him a bit of character development in a future revision of the novel.
What I wanted to express in this post is something rather personal. I know I will be mocked for this walk in the darkness, as it were (know that I don’t publish all the comments that come in), and I know that I am making myself perhaps a bit too vulnerable in this way, kind of like Paul writing about his crying out to the Lord to be delivered from Satan, but, it just is what it is. I think what I’m trying to get across is that our Lord grabbed me at that very moment. Perhaps I should write about that experience. Perhaps that is important. Perhaps there are other readers who could gain some hope in seeing what happened when coming to know the Lord a bit more, that is, an increase in hope during a very dark time indeed.